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  • Lara Crigger

What Is The Point Of This War?


soldier with a gun

War sucks.


Full stop. That’s the entire sentence. No “buts” or other qualifiers to mitigate or downplay the meaning. War sucks. It’s bloody and it’s brutal and no matter how hard you try to prevent it, mistakes will be made and innocent people will die, and people that shouldn’t die will be killed and people who should die will get away scot-free. War sucks. It begins and ends with that.


Yet we do it anyway. We have to, in cases like the Israel-Hamas war. Because as terrible as war is, sometimes it’s the only tool that works. Sometimes, you must fight to stay alive.

 

I’ve come across two main objections to the war on Hamas. One is the usual. garden-variety antisemitism, which we’ve talked about time and again on this blog. Jews fighting back makes a not-insignificant population deeply uncomfortable, because I suppose Jews are supposed to be victims and scapegoats only, and so the bigots demand that those evil Zionists stop their wicked ways.


But that’s not the only reason one might oppose this war. Some folks just oppose war, any war, because they believe war itself is inherently immoral.


I actually sympathize with this viewpoint deeply. After 9/11, my generation got burnt out on war real quick. After the worst terrorist attack on American soil ever, men and women my age enlisted in droves to go catch the bad guys, so to speak, only to spend the next two decades bleeding and dying in battles that, after the first decade, didn’t even rate a mention on the evening news. We lost sight of why we fought—worse, in the case of Iraq, we discovered we were lied to from the start—but that didn’t end the fighting; instead, we kept on sending bright young men and women into the physical and psychological horrors of war, and we did it for so long that we eventually had to send their kids, too. And for what? So that the Taliban could retake control of Afghanistan the nanosecond we left?


Perhaps you can forgive us Millennials, and our younger siblings in Gen Z, for being skeptical that war can ever achieve its aims. Because in our direct and lived experience, it never has.


But this war is not Iraq. It is not Afghanistan. It isn’t WWII either, or Vietnam, or Korea, or any other war in our collective American memory. And to judge the Israel-Hamas war by those yardsticks is to inherently mis-measure the reality of what Israelis face.


This not a war of colonization, border disputes, independence, or liberation. This is a war of survival.

 

In the Jewish tradition, war is typically seen as a last resort. As the Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai once wrote:

Don't stop after beating the swords into plowshares, don't stop! Go on beating and make musical instruments out of them. Whoever wants to make war again will have to turn them into plowshares first.

Why plowshares? Because if ever we want to go to war, we must understand that we are sacrificing our own means of sustenance to do so.


But Amichai’s poem doesn’t say, “Throw your swords away,” or “Don’t wield swords in the first place.” War is the last resort, but it’s still a resort we can choose to take. It's only that we mustn’t make that choice lightly.


That’s because one of our baseline assumptions is that war has an undesirable cost: namely, people die. That includes enemy soldiers and civilians, of course, but also your own soldiers and civilians, and those of your allies. The costlier a war could be, then the harder the parties involved will work to prevent it from spreading, or occurring in the first place. 


But in this situation, that baseline assumption falls apart, because to Hamas, the cost is not undesirable. Quite the opposite. The cost is the point. Hamas’s only goal with this war is human destruction—Israel’s destruction, preferably, but in the absence of that, the group will happily “martyr” its own soldiers and civilians until none are left alive. Human shields, child soldiers, food riots, misfired rockets. They do it all. This is nihilism, in its purest form; this is what it looks like when you believe life is inherently meaningless. 


“Fighting is bargaining with violence,” writes Christopher Blattman of West Point’s Modern War Institute. But what if your enemy has no bargain? If the violence itself is the point? Then you must stop the source of that violence, for the safety of everyone involved—for Israelis, first and foremost, but also for foreigners and, yes, for Palestinians too. You must stop the nihilism before it swallows everyone, because if you don’t—there won’t be anybody left to save.


Hamas—and the radicalized, nihilistic antisemitism they embody—is an existential threat to everyone on this planet. They won’t stop at Israel, or even the Jews. They won’t stop until every last one of us either surrenders or succumbs to the death cult.


It’s hard to fathom the scope of that hatred. That evil—yes, evil. Most of us grew up assuming that the villains from our fairytales would remain there; that true evil doesn’t exist in the Real World. That people can always be reasoned with, and that truth and love would win in the end.


Yet as anybody who has ever dealt with a bully can attest: Sometimes you have to fight back, because bullies don’t understand any other language but fists. They’ll never leave you alone, unless you make them leave you alone.


I do still believe that love will win. Not by laying down arms, though, but by picking them up. Because it is an act of love to protect, to defend. Sometimes, in the name of love, we must pick up a weapon to ensure that nobody else we love gets hurt again.

 

Seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen died earlier this week, killed in IDF air strikes that targeted their cars. Seven lives cut short. A terrible cost. Innocent civilians dying is a terrible cost. Each one of those lives is a world erased, a family tree whose branches and blooms have been hacked away.


I grieve for every aid worker killed, and for the hostages shot by the IDF, and for each innocent Palestinian turned into a human shield or trapped under rubble or starved and beaten by their own people. I can’t and I won’t qualify any of that with a “but.” War sucks. It begins and ends with that.


So I’ll instead add an “and.” War sucks, and let’s not lose sight of why these people were in peril in the first place. Because Hamas put them there. Israel did not choose for Hamas to so brutalize its own people that foreign aid workers risking their lives in a warzone would become necessary; or for Israeli citizens to be kidnapped and imprisoned in active battlefields; or for Hamas fighters to hide amongst civilians in hospitals, mosques, and schools. All these people died because Hamas explicitly and intentionally placed them in the path of bullets.


War sucks, and Israel is doing what it can to make it suck just a little less, by reducing the ratio of civilian to combatant casualties to levels literally never before seen in history.


War sucks, and we can’t lose sight of why Israel fights. They fight to survive, to protect, to defend against a force that only wants to death for friend and foe alike.


War sucks. War always sucks. And sometimes, you have to fight one anyway.

 
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